By Morgan Gassert
The story of my family’s immigration is a story that I am unfamiliar with. After gathering research from my family members, I am uncertain about the way in which my ancestors immigrated to Nebraska from Poland but one thing I’m sure of is the hard-working lives they led and the legacies they left behind.
From the years of 1795 to 1918, the territory of Poland was governed by Prussia, Russia and Austria. Since my ancestors immigrated from the region governed by Austria, some U.S. records state they came from Austria or Austria-Poland. This is the time frame of when my descendants immigrated to the United States from Poland.
My family is known as the “Gzehoviak” family. The spelling of the last name has changed many times over the years. One of the original spellings was “Grzechowiak” And still to this day it remains a name that is found to be difficult to spell and pronounce because the “z” in “Gzehoviak” is silent. (Gee-ho-vee-ack)
According to my mother, Laurie “Gzehoviak” Gassert, the original spelling of “Grzechowiak” meant “dinner” so they changed the spelling to “Gzehoviak,” which means “grace.”
The meaning of “grace” resonates with my family because it represents the strong Catholic faith they practiced every day of their lives. All of my ancestors lived their lives by the grace of God and were loving in everything they did.
My family immigrated to Loup City, Nebraska. They were a family who were 100 percent Polish and true to their roots.
My grandparents were both born and raised in Loup City, which is also known as the “Polish capital of Nebraska,” a fitting title considering the history of their Polish ancestors.
A life of labor and sacrifice
My grandfather and grandmother each grew up on farms where they learned how a simple life in the country was also a hard one. My ancestors were known to be hard-working, yet resourceful in the way they lived.
After my grandparents met in Loup City, they married and had three children. They later moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where they had six more children.
Raising nine children was no easy task, but they made it work. They didn’t go out to eat. They didn’t take fancy vacations. They didn’t spend money on leisure activities or extras. They lived life with the bare minimum.
While my grandfather was working hard and making ends meet as a painter, my grandmother stayed at home and raised the children.
She cooked all the meals, tended to the laundry, did all the housework, helped the kids with their homework and made sure everyone was taken care of and in bed when they were supposed to be. She dedicated her life to her children. She was stern but it was out of love and sacrifice for her family.
It was a challenge to afford the basic necessities of life. They were on food stamps and were forced to survive on one income. However, there weren’t always nine kids at home. They were always going through different seasons of life. Some of the kids would be away at college or starting a new job in a new city while the youngest of the nine were still at home and dependent on their mother.
My grandparents also had the challenge of raising a mentally-handicapped daughter who was eventually taken into the care of a full-time provider because her needs far exceeded what my grandmother could provide for her.
Before my grandmother died in March 2018 at age 91, I interviewed her. I wanted to hear her perspective on her life and her family. She said she was proud of her family and it made her happy to see the family name continue to grow and be carried on. Whether this is through new marriages or babies being born, her family meant the world to her.
In addition to my grandparent’s roles, my ancestors were also military men, farmers, strong Catholics, store owners, stay-at-home mothers and painting contractors. They came to Nebraska to establish hard-working, simple and productive lifestyles.
My ancestors had strong military roots. My great-grandfather, Anthony Gzehoviak, enlisted in the army and served in Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. His son, (my grandfather) Henry Gzehoviak, followed his father’s footsteps and entered the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1945. My grandfather’s brother, Louis Gzehoviak, and a few other ancestors were World War II Navy veterans.
My great-grandparents owned a merchandising business and general store, where for years they sold anything ranging from groceries, to clothes, to other miscellaneous items for years.
Everything they did in life required hard, diligent work. Their strong faith and family values guided them in life to succeed and overcome any challenges or struggles that life threw their way. They made do with less and lived a simple, yet valuable and fulfilling life.
Although I don’t have access to every detail about the Gzehoviak immigration and both of my grandparents are deceased now, I am aware of the legacy they left behind and the hard and laborious lives that not only they lived, but all of their ancestors before them lived.